http://www.cherokeephoenix.orgCherokee Nation Fire Rangers crew chief David Comingdeer checks a truck before his crew leaves the Tribal Complex in Tahlequah, Okla., to protect tribal lands from wildfire in this 2010 photo.  JAMI CUSTER/CHEROKEE PHOENIX
Cherokee Nation Fire Rangers crew chief David Comingdeer checks a truck before his crew leaves the Tribal Complex in Tahlequah, Okla., to protect tribal lands from wildfire in this 2010 photo. JAMI CUSTER/CHEROKEE PHOENIX

CN Fire Rangers operate under minimal budget

Cherokee Nation Fire Rangers Isaac Merchant, front, and Tommy Green sharpen chainsaws prior to leaving the Tribal Complex in Tahlequah, Okla., to protect tribal lands from wildfire in this 2010 photo. JAMI CUSTER/CHEROKEE PHOENIX Cherokee Nation Fire Rangers Isaac Merchant, front, and Tommy Green sharpen chainsaws prior to leaving the Tribal Complex in Tahlequah, Okla., to protect tribal lands from wildfire in this 2010 photo. JAMI CUSTER/CHEROKEE PHOENIX
Cherokee Nation Fire Rangers Isaac Merchant, front, and Tommy Green sharpen chainsaws prior to leaving the Tribal Complex in Tahlequah, Okla., to protect tribal lands from wildfire in this 2010 photo. JAMI CUSTER/CHEROKEE PHOENIX
BY Phoenix Archives
09/14/2012 08:31 AM
BY KEVIN SCRAPPER
Reporter

TAHLEQUAH, Okla. - From January to September, the Cherokee Nation Fire Rangers responded to 157 fires within the tribe’s jurisdiction. But as the number of fires remain consistent with previous years, the Fire Rangers crew is down to a fraction of its previous workforce.

“Three years ago, I had about 10 to 12 men that I could work six to eight months out of the year, to put out these 200 to 300 fires that we have,” Fire Rangers crew chief David Comingdeer said. “Due to cuts and the lack of support to my department, next Tuesday (Sept. 4) we’ll be down to four firefighters and the same amount of fires to fight.”

The Fire Rangers are extensively trained and held to a higher standard than other firefighters in the area, Comingdeer said.

“We are the only federally qualified wild land firefighters in the Cherokee Nation,” he said. “We have lots of volunteer fire departments and lots of city fire departments, but none of them are federally qualified or equipped to fight wild land fire in the Cherokee Nation. They’re state-qualified, state-certified, not federal.”

Comingdeer added that he’s the program’s only full-time CN employee. The Bureau of Indian Affairs employs the other three members, but Comingdeer said it would be beneficial for the tribe to hire the men full time.

“We’ve tried to get them that way, to have Cherokee Nation hire these men to work here permanently. So far we haven’t had any luck doing that,” he said. “I don’t know if it’s budget restraints. I just don’t think that the right people have found out.”

Natural Resources Director Pat Gwin said federal funds allocated to the program have been cut in previous years.

“We used to get a far greater amount from the BIA,” said Gwin. “Our funding level has dropped from about $172,000 to the $56,000 that it is now. We are only able to conduct actual fire suppression activities upon the instruction and oversight of the bureau.”

Staffing is not the only problem the Fire Rangers face. Comingdeer said the program’s budget doesn’t include maintenance expenses for equipment or an operating base.

“It’s very difficult to fight fire the way we do because we don’t have a headquarters. We don’t have a building. We don’t have a place to park our equipment,” said Comingdeer. “Our equipment sits out in the heat and freezing cold all year long. Yet during fire season there is a big demand for us to perform at a federal level, with substandard funding.”

Gwin acknowledged that a building would be welcome, but again stated that funds aren’t’ there.

“It’s a non-tribal priority allocation program,” he said. “A lot of the money that the bureau dolls out in the annual funding agreement is called TPA, which means we have a certain amount of leeway as to how we can spend that. The preparedness fund, it comes down as a very specific line item. It says, you will maintain this truck, you will maintain an employee.”

Comingdeer also said the department’s importance is often overlooked, at least until it’s needed. However, Gwin said the tribe and non-tribal firefighters appreciate the Fire Rangers.

Oklahoma Forestry crew chief Dale Winkler said the Fire Rangers play a vital role in protecting tribal wild lands.

“I’ve worked with David as far as fighting wild land fires and they’ve been very helpful,” he said. “They help protect and preserve our wild lands, our forests out here and also the houses that surround them.”

Winkler said the amount of crew hands in which the Fire Rangers employ is much smaller than the crews he is accustomed to working with, particularly for the rapidly approaching fall fire season. He said his concern is for local communities, particularly in rural areas, because fires caused evacuations in Oklahoma during the summer.

“We could have another Luther or Drumright fire right here in Adair County or Cherokee County or Sequoyah County,” said Winkler. “In the Bell, Cave Springs and Lyon Switch areas we’ve got a lot of tribal homes there. They’re not easy to get to.”

kevin-scrapper@cherokee.org


918-453-5000 ext. 5903

News

BY ASSOCIATED PRESS
05/22/2017 04:45 PM
OKLAHOMA CITY (AP) — A new Oklahoma law cracks down on protesters who trespass and anyone who financially supports them. The Journal Record reports Republican Gov. Mary Fallin has signed legislation that will punish any person or organization affiliated with protests that result in property damage. Fallin approved a similar bill earlier this month that imposes steep fines or prison time against people convicted of trespassing at a critical infrastructure facility to impede operations. The author of the bills, Rep. Mark McBride, says the idea came after the protests along the Dakota Access Pipeline. The American Civil Liberties Union in Oklahoma voiced concerns of such laws, noting property damage is already illegal and further legislation would likely serve as intimidators. The Oklahoma Oil and Gas Association supported the measure, saying those who damage property should be held accountable.
BY STAFF REPORTS
05/22/2017 11:45 AM
CLAREMORE, Okla. – Construction crews have finished renovations of Cherokee Casino Will Rogers Downs as the casino and race track welcomes gaming and horse racing fans alike for a better entertainment experience. According to a Cherokee Nation press release, renovations include an upgraded dance floor and entertainment venue, an improved bar, new gaming floor and simulcast area, as well as redone banquet space. Approximatley$5 million was invested to make 43,000 square feet of renovations, the release states. According to a 2016 story, the renovation was slated for completion by April 2017 and was estimated to cost $3.5 million. “The feedback we’ve received from our guests made the investment worth it,” WRD General Manager Rusty Stamps said. “The upgrades offer a high-quality experience for new guests, while our loyal customer base is overjoyed with the improvements to their favorite horse racing facility.” It also states the gaming floor offers 250 electronic games in a new location on the casino’s south side. The new layout offers a more cohesive gaming experience for guests and has created the opportunity to introduce some game variety, the release states. The simulcast viewing area has also been relocated to the casino’s northwest corner and features large screen TVs and seating for more than 100 racing fans, the release states. The Horseshoe banquet space can accommodate 150 additional race fans during major events such as the recent Kentucky Derby, the release states. It adds that the indoor paddock observation area is just off the new simulcast room and offers a VIP view to the paddock area. The Dog Iron Grill also now features two seating areas with room for nearly 90 patrons near the casino’s main entrance, according to the release. “At Cherokee Nation Entertainment, we always strive to uphold our position as the market leader for gaming and entertainment,” Cherokee Nation Businesses CEO Shawn Slaton said. “We feel this upgrade streamlines our racing facility with our other casinos and gives it the look and experience our guests have come to appreciate from our brand.” Cherokee Casino Will Rogers Downs, located 3 miles east of Claremore on Highway 20, opened in 2005. It features six months of live horse racing with spring thoroughbred and fall quarter horse meets. Simulcast racing from around the world is broadcast year round inside the casino.
BY STAFF REPORTS
05/19/2017 12:45 PM
TAHLEQUAH, Okla. – Cherokee Nation officials on May 15 donated $195,000 to eight Boys & Girls Club programs throughout northeastern Oklahoma. Funding recipients included clubs in Washington, Delaware, Sequoyah, Rogers, Nowata, Cherokee, Mayes and Adair counties. Funding was based on the number of Native American students in each program. The eight area programs serve more than 11,000 students, with nearly 60 percent being Native American. According to a press release, the CN donated to the following Boys & Girls Clubs: • Bartlesville with a 1,021 enrollment at $5,299.09, • Delaware County with a 746 enrollment at $14,348.49, • Sequoyah County with a 1,746 enrollment at $20,789.10, • Chelsea with a 402 enrollment at $7,363.84, • Nowata with a 912 enrollment at $18,098.15, • Tahlequah with a 4,194 enrollment at $80,666.98, • Green Country-Pryor with a 376 enrollment at $4,591.71, and • Adair County with a 1,751 enrollment at $43,835.58. “Investing in the Boys & Girls Club is a collaboration that benefits Cherokee Nation’s most precious resource, our youth. We proudly support the work of local clubs within our communities because it benefits kids, families, local schools and overall community health," Secretary of State Chuck Hoskin Jr. said. “This is an opportunity to provide mentors and create positive, lifelong influences for Cherokees. Our youth deserve everything we can do for them, so they can fully grow into their God-given potential.” Since 2008, the CN has given more than $2 million to help Boys & Girls Club programs in the tribe’s jurisdiction. “The Boys & Girls Club units in the 14 counties of the Cherokee Nation provide a service beyond measure,” Tribal Councilor Joe Byrd said. “These clubs help so many Cherokee kids who otherwise might not have any solid direction or activity after school. I'm proud we're able to contribute to such a worthy cause. The clubs are often a godsend to our working parents, as they help youth with tutoring, as well as involving them in organized sports, art and cultural pursuits.” Adair County’s program oversees clubs at Stilwell, Rocky Mountain, Maryetta and Zion schools. More than 80 percent of Boys & Girls Club participants from the four schools are Native American. “To be honest, it would be hard for us to keep our doors open without the assistance of Cherokee Nation,” Dan Collins, Adair County Boys & Girls Club board president, said. “This is going to help tremendously.” Kristal Diver, Adair County Boys & Girls Club chief professional officer, said the Nation’s donation would be used to cover overhead costs of the program, including the purchase of supplies for summer school activities, which aren’t covered by other funding sources. The Boys & Girls Clubs of America serves more than 4 million youth in the United States and on military bases across the world.
BY STAFF REPORTS
05/18/2017 02:00 PM
TAHLEQUAH, Okla. – The next meeting of the Tahlequah Writers group is 2 p.m., May 20 at the Cherokee Arts Center multi-purpose room at 212 S. Water St. Monthly Tahlequah Writers meetings are casual and involve news of interest to writers and updates on what attendees are writing. Attendees include poets, fiction writers, historians, essayists, humorists, playwrights and scriptwriters. Participants discuss the art of writing as well as the business of publishing and promotion. The public is invited. Area writers are encouraged to bring their works to the meeting to be critiqued. Tahlequah Writers organizer Karen Cooper is asking members to bring ideas about structuring the group so that it continues after she moves to Florida soon. Cooper also announced some Tahlequah Writers members would be reading poetry at 11 a.m., May 27 at the Wagoner Arts Alliance in Wagoner. For more information about the Tahlequah Writers group, call Cooper at 918-207-0093 or email <a href="mailto: karcoocoo@att.net">karcoocoo@att.net</a>. People can also visit Tahlequah Writers on Facebook.
BY WILL CHAVEZ
Assistant Editor – @cp_wchavez
05/17/2017 02:00 PM
TAHLEQUAH, Okla. – The Cherokee Nation’s Indian Child Welfare on May 16 hosted a “Carry On Foster Care Walk” at One Fire Field west of the Tribal Complex to raise awareness for foster care and the need for foster care homes in the CN. Bags and backpacks also were gathered for children to allow them to have a proper way to carry their clothing as they move from home to foster care and possibly back home. “We appreciate everyone coming out to this walk. The bags will go to our children. Once they come into our care...if they return home or if they have to change foster homes for any reason we want them to be able to move with a bag of their own with their name so they’re not using a trash bag,” CN ICW Executive Director Nikki Baker Limore said. She said during Foster Care Awareness Month in May the focus was on foster care families and the Cherokee children in need of foster care homes. “We need to instill in these children that they are important and that we love and care for them, and I think that bags are the first way to show them, ‘we’re going to get you from place to place, and we’re going to take good care of you.’ And ‘we’re going to try to fix your home life, and if we can’t, we’re going to find a home for you,’” Baker Limore said. She added that ICW is 120 employees “strong,” has five office locations within the CN and has child welfare cases in nearly every state in the United States. There are currently about 80 children in ICW’s care, she said. ICW Assistant Sally Wilson said ICW has about 45 foster care homes and is working on the cases of about 1,400 children throughout the United States. “We have about 700 (children) here in the state of Oklahoma. The rest are out of state. We have a great need for homes,” Wilson said. Secretary of State Chuck Hoskin Jr. said the measure of a nation is how it cares for the most vulnerable of its citizens. For the CN that includes what is done by ICW for Cherokee children and foster families, he said. “If you measure a nation by what we do in Indian Child Welfare and our commitment of foster care, then the Cherokee Nation is a strong nation, and we’re getting stronger,” Hoskin said. Deputy Chief S. Joe Crittenden read a proclamation at the event for Foster Care Awareness Month that stated, in part, “within the Cherokee Nation and throughout the United States, there are more than 1,600 Cherokee children and youth in temporary care...and deserve a safe, secure and stable home along with the compassion and nurture of a permanent family and home.” The proclamation also states in the past two years the number of foster homes for Cherokee children has grown from 17 homes to 46, however, the need for more Cherokee foster families is still significant. If interested in becoming a foster parent, call 918-458-6900.
BY STAFF REPORTS
05/16/2017 04:00 PM
PARK HILL, Okla. – Spend the afternoon outdoors enjoying live gospel performances at the 18th annual Gospel Sing on May 20 at Cherokee Heritage Center. Performances from families, friends, churches and gospel groups will begin at 1 p.m. The free event is open to the public, and guests are encouraged to bring chairs. The Gospel Sing concludes at 6 p.m. with a hog fry dinner sponsored by Ron and Vivian Cottrell, Sequoyah Trails and the Oklahoma Pork Council. For more information, call Becky Adair at 918-456-6007 ext. 6160. The CHC is located at 21192 S. Keeler Drive.